Book Review: Silent Separation (何以笙箫默) – Gu Man (顾漫) 7

Silent Separation

Title: Silent Separation (何以笙箫默)
Author: Gu Man (顾漫)
Published: April 2007

Since we’re already translating her award winning novel (and my personal favorite), A Slight Smile is Very Charming (微微一笑很倾城), I thought I would weigh in on some of Gu Man’s other novels, starting with Silent Separation.

Featuring Zhao Mo Sheng (赵默笙) as the female lead who flees to the United States after misunderstandings with He Yi Chen (何以琛), Silent Separation tells the story of these two people who have met again after seven years of separation. Despite not being the prettiest or the smartest (pretty clueless, in fact,) Mo Sheng managed to crack into his heart and bury herself there back then with her lively nature. Seven years might have changed them, but their love for each other still burns strong — whether they try to hide it or not.

With just twelve chapters, Silent Separation is short with a happy ending that gives you hope in an inexplicable love, a love that stands the test of time. I mean, let’s face it, seven years is a long time for a guy to wait for someone. But, of course, who is to say that it can’t happen; certainly, not Silent Separation.

However, the caveat of this story being so short is that many of the characters are not fleshed out. Why does Yi Chen love Mo Sheng so much? How did Mo Sheng fall in love with him? Were they really that much in love if it couldn’t even survive the first hurdle they were thrown? For someone so cold and aloof, Yi Chen sure had a lot of people surround him, but what about Mo Sheng? Surely, with her lively personality she at least had one friend from before college? Even Yi Mei (Yi Chen’s “sister”) who initiated Mo Sheng’s disappearance barely gets any time besides at the beginning and at the very end. Side characters step in every so often to do their bit in moving the needle towards a happy reunion, but their presence never linger long enough to have an impact; they leave just as quickly as they arrive.

As for the plot, there are so many points that could have been built up even more so that it made an impact to the story. It is primarily about the process of how they manage to overcome their past and perhaps, be together and trust each other again. It comes complete with flashbacks of seven years prior, when an innocent Mo Sheng chases after the straight-laced Yi Chen. Such is the fate that allows them to meet and for her to once again misunderstand him — right after she comes back. Once they clear up the first misunderstanding, he finds out that she’s been married before. But, that’s alright, Yi Chen will marry her anyway. What about the ex-husband? Let’s shun him till the end, and then give him a short little section for him to go into a flashback about how, clearly, he will never get the girl. Like so, the obstacles are never really walls, more like speed bumps. There are no lasting effects to events that occur.

Overall, the book is a nice quick read. It didn’t have much substance, but it got to its goal; The main couple was able to find happiness.  The flashbacks were sweet and they helped in holding the couple together — enough for the readers to continue to cheer them on.

Read or Not: Read for the never dying hope of a love to return.


In college, Zhao Mo Sheng was bright and lively, falling in love with the talented law major, He Yi Chen. The cheerful and candid her, chased after him excessively — finally making the talented and outstanding him halt for her.

However, being not too good at expressing himself, he eventually causes her to leave with a broken heart to a far away place…

Back then, he would always make her wait.

Once she waited for too long and vexed at him, “I already counted to 999 before you came! If you make me count to 1000 next time, I won’t wait for you anymore!”

As a result, one time he was grabbed into a meeting by his department. When he ran there after the long and tedious meeting finally ended, she was unexpectedly still here. This time she had waited until her anger was all gone and could only grievously say to him, “Yi Chen, I’ve already counted a whole bunch of 999s.”

And in these seven years, how many times has he counted to 999? It’s not that he hadn’t thought of giving up; it’s just that he has no way of counting to 1000.

As a side note, yes, I am aware of the drama adaptation of this novel coming out in a week-ish. From the trailers, it seems that some of the points that I brought up are going to be addressed for the sake of the story. I will most likely casually watch the drama, but it is with hesitation that I step into it as I’m not too fond of the male lead.

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7 thoughts on “Book Review: Silent Separation (何以笙箫默) – Gu Man (顾漫)

  • littlealiengreen

    I liked how she focused on the “them” now but I agree that it was a little too short. I honestly need more of them, if there were no side stories I would probably think wth…

    I liked how she only gave a few tidbits of their past to show us why they are so passionate with what they have. A little conflict with thw ex wouldn’t hurt though, I think they’ll give us that in the drama though.

  • Skimmed Milk

    Hi! Can I know what does the chinese title means? I figured it’s a play on the characters’ name (right?), but does it literally mean ‘silent separation’?

    • LilZah Post author

      You are right about the name being made up of their names. In “He Yi Sheng Xiao Mo (何以笙箫默),” the “He,” “Yi,” “Sheng,” and “Mo” comes from the male lead’s name, He Yi Chen (何以琛), and the female lead’s name, Zhao Mo Sheng (赵默笙). According to some, this actually was the start of authors using a combination of the names of their leads as internet novel titles.

      As for whether it actually means Silent Separation (the official English name listed), let’s break the name down into parts. The literal translation of “He Yi (何以)” is “from where/whence”. From what I gather, “Sheng Xiao (笙箫 lit. reed-pipe wind instrument and a vertical bamboo flute)” is said to be a reference to a poem by 20th century poet, Xu Zhimo, where it is used in the line “悄悄是别离的笙箫” to represent “leaving or parting from.” The last character, “Mo (默),” is directly translated as “silent” and is also a part of the next line in the poem. So paraphrased, the name of the book can also mean “why did you leave without saying anything” or “Silent Separation”.

      You can read a translation of the poem on Xu Zhimo’s wikipedia article.

      Hope that helped! 🙂

      • Skimmed Milk

        Thank you for the detailed reply! I tried googling but couldn’t understand what it means. This is very helpful 🙂 I realised the 箫 is also the same character in Xiao Xiao’s name. I wonder if it’s a coincidence or on purpose haha.

        • LilZah Post author

          Haha, maybe. But I think the main purpose is to be part of 笙箫. It seems a bit weird to me if Xiao Xiao was stuck right in the middle of the two. As much as she’s a part of the story in the drama, she doesn’t really play a huge part in the book.

        • LilZah Post author

          Upon watching the series, I was reminded of the part where Mo Sheng actually tells Yi Sheng her name.

          Here’s where she references the two lines of the poem, explaining 笙箫 and 默. 🙂


          Roughly translates to:

          My name is Zhao Mo Sheng; ‘Zhao’ is this ‘Zhao’; ‘Mo’ is the ‘Mo’ from silent (Chen Mo); Sheng is a type of instrument (reed pipe). My name is actually an allusion to Xu Zhimo’s poem…”Quiet, is the departing reed pipe and flute; Silent, is Cambridge at night.”